On science fiction, horror, and staying in your lane

Recently we posted a video on our YouTube channel letting viewers know we’re raising money for post-production of a short film we shot earlier this year. Most of the comments ranged in tone from lukewarm to positive. But the one that struck me the hardest, maybe because it was so enraging, was one that read simply: “stay in your lane.”

“What lane??” I thought. “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!”

But: because I’ve also heard that the things that make us angry are the ones we most fear are true, I gave it some thought. Is it true that people who make scifi video essays have no business also making horror narratives?

First of all, there’s the question of genre. Science fiction and horror are, granted, categorically distinct. With science fiction we might think of rocket ships and robots, far off planets and adventure. With horror, we think of chainsaws and cabins in the woods, of blood and darkness and captivity. At the risk of oversimplifying, science fiction is about technology, and it’s supposed to make us think. Horror is about human nature, and it’s supposed to make us feel.

“Garden Of The Gods” title characters, Mike and Felix, meet in the film’s opening scene

But beneath those differences, both genres make pretty similar demands on their audiences. Both ask viewers to imagine, to suspend disbelief and pretend, however briefly, that the untrue is true.

Imagination is necessary before we can follow a story about (currently) impossible things like interplanetary travel or alien communication. Similarly, we have to suspend disbelief if we’re going to feel the feels of a frightening movie. We’re not actually under threat when we watch a group of teens get lost in the woods or a foolish kid lean down to check under his bed. But we imagine ourselves in those situations, and that’s how we get the thrill.

So both science fiction and horror fall under the broader umbrella of ‘speculative’ fiction.

Mike and Felix end up in a dark place, in more sense than one

And what of the difference between essays and narratives? Between discussing others’ intellectual property and creating our own?

Well, I’ve learned over the years both as a writer and a teacher of writing that these two modes don’t compete with each other. In fact, each mode is strengthened by the other. Good writers make good readers make good writers, and on the cycle goes.

So to offer as much emotional generosity as I can to that commenter, I re-interpret the message as: “Quit doing stuff I don’t care about and get back to making me free videos.”

And that gives me room for my best moment of clarity: I want to write both video essays and narrative projects. So even if a horror short film is a different lane — it’s one we’re totally going to drive in.

— Katie Boyer (@cat_bird2)

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Kyle Mackenzie Sullivan

Kyle Mackenzie Sullivan

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Filmmaker, Photographer, &, Armchair Anthropologist. Lover of books, languages, science & extinct nations. Creator of Trekspertise & The Wikisurfer podcast.